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November 30, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

Sunday begins the Advent season for the Christian community.  For the Western Church Advent begins with the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas, which this year falls on December 1.  The Eastern Church has a different tradition, beginning Advent forty days prior to Christmas which takes the start back into November.

Originally the Advent season was not in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus but in preparation for Epiphany.  Epiphany comes from the Greek word “epiphania,” which means manifestation.  The celebration is connected with the coming of the Magi to visit the holy family and also the baptism of Jesus.  It is celebrated on January 6 and was a time for the baptism of new Christians.  The Christian community instituted the forty day period of preparation and fasting in anticipation of this event.

It was not until the sixth century that Gregory the Great associated Advent with the coming of the Messiah.  The emphasis in these earlier times was not on Jesus birth, but on the promise of his second coming.

The Middle Ages brought about the linkage of Advent with the birth of Jesus.  The idea of the Christmas Cresh was instituted by Francis of Assisi in 1223.

From this brief history of Advent it should be clear that Advent and Christmas are not markers for the date of Jesus birth.  Jesus was not born in December, and most biblical scholars are aware of this.  That said, Advent and Christmas do mark the teaching of all branches of Christianity that Jesus the Messiah was God’s only Son; born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, dead and buried, and on the third day arose from the dead, ascended into heaven from which he will return to judge the living and the dead.

Advent marks the beginning of the Church year.  It underlines the doctrine that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save the world from the consequences of rebellion.   It is a joyous season because it reminds us that God keeps his promises.  The word came from heaven to the shepherds that they need not fear.  The news is good.  God has acted to bring peace between earth and heaven.  God is not mad at the wretched and rebellious behavior of mankind.  He is sending the solution.  Commenting on Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus the Apostle John says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Needless to say Christians believe these realities are worth celebrating.  They are worth preparation for at least four weeks, if not forty days.

It is also worth saying that much of the hullabaloo that begins this week has nothing to do with this celebration.  Regrettably much of it has to do with the very ignorance God sent his Son to save us from.  It has to do with greed, materialism, and a total disregard for the spiritual origins of the season.  We all have a choice.  We will decide what we will celebrate.  For me and my house, we will celebrate the epiphany of God himself into our world of darkness and confusion.  The lights of Christmas will be in celebration of the Light of the world.  That “life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs